We’ve all been there before: Stuck in what feels like a never-ending conversation with someone who won’t stop talking. Maybe it’s a co-worker that stops by your cubicle ten times a day to chit chat, or perhaps it’s a friend who dominates the discussion every time you hang out. It could be someone in your family or a friend of a friend. It could even be someone you don’t even know. Those who love to talk (and talk) — chatterboxes — are everywhere.
One reason for this is because humans are social animals and we’re naturally hardwired to talk to each other. And our favorite subject to talk about? Ourselves.
According to Harvard psychologists, people spend 60 percent of their conversations talking about themselves, and 80 percent when using social media. The reason, researchers discovered, suggested that revealing personal information to other people produces a high level of activity in the regions in the brain associated with motivation and reward.
Chatterboxes talk because it feels good to them, but this can make you feel like they’re talking to you as opposed to talking with you. Extracting yourself from a lengthy one-sided conversation with a chatterbox can be tricky but there are a few tricks to conveying to a talkative person that the discussion is over, without seeming rude in the process.
1. Stop the conversation before it even starts
According to Patrick Allen at LifeHacker, one way to stop a chatterbox is to stop them before they have a chance to start a conversation. If you work with them, ask them for a specific summary of the topic. Have them go straight to the point instead of going off-topic. Questions are a great way to steer the conversation the way you want. If the chatterbox starts to ramble, politely redirect them back to the topic.
“When you notice them begin to ramble, redirect them to another topic or issue related to what you were talking about. It re-enters you into the conversation and adjusts their train of thought just enough to stop their rambling.”
If the person is a friend and you feel comfortable doing so, gently tell them that they ramble. Some people might not realize how much they talk and may welcome the heads up from someone who has their best interests at heart.
2. Use body language
If you can’t stop a talkative person right from the start—or you don’t know them well enough to talk about it—let your body language do the talking. Rather than smiling, nodding or acting engaged, keep your responses, if you’re able to have any, quick and blunt. Make less eye contact. Hopefully, they’ll start to see that they are losing your attention.
However, if the chatterbox still hasn’t gotten the hint, then you can politely remove yourself from the conversation. To do this, wait for a brief pause and then lightly touch the other person on the elbow.
Etiquette expert “Mister Manners,” Thomas Farley says that a light elbow touch will signal to your plan to leave the conversation with the other person. “The elbow touch is your throwing down the gauntlet down effectively,” says Farley. “It’s snapping out of the story . . . so you can disengage.” Some people respond well to a gesture that gently says, “please, pause.”
Tell the other person that you’ve enjoyed talking to them, but you have to leave now. Be kind, but dare to be direct. Just remember, being assertive and direct doesn’t also mean being cold and hard.
3. The art of interrupting someone politely
Ironically, the first step to halting a talker is first listening to them talk.
Ignoring a chatterbox can make it worse because they could feel as if they have to keep explaining something for you to understand it—making them talk more. Stay engaged in the conversation. Show Mr. or Ms. Chatterbox that you’re listening by using both visual and verbal cues. Understand what it is that they’re trying to say.
When the perfect moment arises in the conversation, or you can’t take the constant chatter any longer, Diane Barth at Psychology Today recommends interrupting a talker in the most polite way possible:
“When you interrupt, be ready to say something about what you hear them saying. Don’t go for a deep psychological explanation. Something simple and to the point, but if possible, something that reflects something positive about them. Don’t be surprised if they start to talk over you—many people talk over everyone else because they are afraid of criticism. Again, say, ‘Wait, I’d like to finish my thought now,’ and then say what you were going to say about them.”
Barth also recommends not ending the conversation with a comment about the chatterbox. Instead, talk about an experience of your own that confirms you understood and can relate to what they’re experiencing. It’s a nice way to end the conversation on a positive note. While interrupting someone may seem tough or inherently rude, sometimes it’s the best way to stop a runaway conversation.
My last piece of advice is the most important: Be kind to others. Remember when I told you that humans are social animals? It’s important to keep that in mind when dealing with someone who won’t stop talking. Some people don’t have someone to share things with. You may be the only one they know who will listen to them talk. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you have to listen to twelve hours of non-stop talk, but kindness towards others is always a good policy. After all, we all go on and on (and on) every now and again.
What do you think? Do you have a tip for dealing with chatterboxes? A relatable story? Tell me about it in the comments!